After three or four days of what some would call man-flu, but I would call a highly plausible flu-like virus, my body revived to welcome the half-term holiday. Amy disappeared with a friend and her parents into one of those increasingly unpopular 4×4 cars for a week’s holiday in the Yorkshire Dales while Heather, Tom and I headed off down south.
Far too early on Sunday morning we drove down the A12, once again passing the site of the crash where Claire and Jenny lost their lives. It’s not a nice feeling, not even now over two and a half years later, and the mind cannot help but imagine the impact of two cars colliding and the screams and the blood. It looks like nothing ever happened now, as if the road just swallowed a meal of five people and licked its lips and closed its mouth tight without a trace.
We’re on our way to a church in Great Dunmow where I have been invited to speak by a friend who helps leads the church along with his wife. We get there with plenty of time to spare but time never seems to be enough for all the last minute technological arrangements that involve setting up a DVD clip and a presentation. I like using these things; they split the talk up and hopefully keep folks’ attention going. I’m a teacher and the classroom has taught me that attention spans are in dramatic decline. The nation is getting dumber and quicker to let their minds off the leash and into the open space of who knows where?
The church meets in some sort of media studio and they have advertised my visit in their local paper as well as to some other churches so that the studio is full and friendly chatter fills the room and coffee and biscuits are being served before the meeting starts. I can tell the people who are in church for the first time. They are looking at their watches and wondering when the service is going to start. So I introduce myself to a mother and teenage daughter who are sitting nearby. “We just saw the ad and fancied coming”, they say. Amazing really and quite brave to just turn up into the unknown. I guess they thought it would be quite impersonal and formal and easy to be anonymous. No chance of that.
The service starts with an encouragement to engage with Jesus and then the instruments start to play and all sorts of spontaneous gestures are being made as songs are sung. I wonder how the visitors are handling this. There are no instructions to sit or stand or join with a prayer and they can’t know any of the songs. It must be really quite awkward but worship is what church does and these are difficulties that are experienced among every congregation.
It’s time for me to talk. It’s never the same, always a different angle and this one is to do with understanding that how we handle what happens during this life has a bearing on the one to come. I know that the reason Claire and Jenny lost their lives has much to do with the fallen world we live in. I also know that it was no plan of God to bring them home so early. Jesus was angry on the day they died. I will never forget being propped up against the garden fence on July 1st with my body on the verge of closing down. With my eyes closed, light flooded into me and I saw him standing there so powerful, so majestic and so angry. He was there to protect, to assert himself and I could barely contain the sight.
Yet Claire and Jenny lost the opportunity to bring more glory to him. Whatever their lives had offered that was to be it and no more. I wonder about my friend Maria who has MS and can do nothing more for Jesus other than continue to live and praise her Saviour. What price her life now other than this? The answer must lie in eternity and for this we can only trust God. When the conditions and circumstance of life don’t seem to make any sense whatsoever, we have to turn to God who sees the grand sweep of eternity and trust him that he works all things to good for those who love him – even the things we cannot understand or will appreciate in this life.